Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Principle or Personality?

Sriram asked:

Swami Vivekananda Said “Buddhism cannot sustain without Lord Buddha”. Similarly is the case with Christianity. But my doubt is, why cant we think of them also as truths being explained like in Vedas with the help of characters. Probably, in Buddhism, in every book everywhere it might be like Buddha told so and so etc. Even if the character Buddha is not there, they can be imagined as truths. I could not understand swamiji’s view here? Does Swamiji mean they don’t teach absolute truths? This is just my doubt.

Amirapu Natarajan answers:

They taught the same absolute truths. There is no doubt about it.

At one point of time, Swami Vivekananda asked his brother disciples not to preach the name of Sri Ramakrishna at all but the principle he taught. He himself was perhaps confident enough that he would be able to convert half the world to follow Sri Ramakrishna if ever he would preach the personality of Sri Ramakrishna. But instead, he was only preaching the principle behind the great man.

Let us take an example in the field of science. We may make a grand invention but to make it useful to the general public would be very difficult. Because, ordinary people can’t understand the idea which lies behind that great invention. The same is the case with the great truths of the spiritual world.

People understand a personality better and adapt to it faster. But if you ask the general public to understand and adapt a principle it would take ages. But learning a principle would make them stand on their feet. That is what Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda intended. They wanted everyone to be self-dependent even in the field of spirituality. It may be slow, but it gives lasting results.

Buddhism spread like wildfire because of the great personality of Buddha. But when he passed away, it quickly degenerated. The same is the case with Christ. Taking a very modern example, can’t you see what happened to Indian National Congress after the passing away of the Mahatma?

Swami Vivekananda explained: "In spite of its wonderful moral strength, Buddhism was extremely iconoclastic; and much of its force being spent in merely negative attempts, it had to die out in the land of its birth, and what remained of it became full of superstitions and ceremonials, a hundred times cruder than those it was intended to suppress. Although it partially succeeded in putting down the animal sacrifices of the Vedas, it filled the land with temples, images, symbols, and bones of saints….Above all, in the medley of Aryans, Mongols, and aborigines which it created, it unconsciously led the way to some of the hideous Vâmâchâras. This was especially the reason why this travesty of the teaching of the great Master had to be driven out of India by Shri Shankara and his band of Sannyâsins.”

Iconoclastic means worshipping an icon. Quick results always result in quick degeneration. The slower the growth the more sustained it would be.

On the other hand, our purANas attempt at using personalities to preach the principle. But, we all know how the people in India fight taking sides with those personalities described in those purANas. SHaiva, vaiSHnava, shAktEya and all other groups and various sects go on criticizing and fighting among themselves. If they actually take the principle, all the fights would end. I herewith quote the entire text of that quote of Swami Vivekananda so that you will be able to understand it better.

“Some historical truth is the nucleus of every Purana. The object of the Puranas is to teach mankind the sublime truth in various forms; and even if they do not contain any historical truth, they form a great authority for us in respect of the highest truth which they inculcate. Take the Râmâyana, for illustration, and for viewing it as an authority on building character, it is not even necessary that one like Rama should have ever lived. The sublimity of the law propounded by Ramayana or Bharata does not depend upon the truth of any personality like Rama or Krishna, and one can even hold that such personages never lived, and at the same time take those writings as high authorities in respect of the grand ideas which they place before mankind. Our philosophy does not depend upon any personality for its truth. Thus Krishna did not teach anything new or original to the world, nor does Ramayana profess anything which is not contained in the Scriptures. It is to be noted that Christianity cannot stand without Christ, Mohammedanism without Mohammed, and Buddhism without Buddha, but Hinduism stands independent of any man, and for the purpose of estimating the philosophical truth contained in any Purana, we need not consider the question whether the personages treated of therein were really material men or were fictitious characters. The object of the Puranas was the education of mankind, and the sages who constructed them contrived to find some historical personages and to superimpose upon them all the best or worst qualities just as they wanted to, and laid down the rules of morals for the conduct of mankind. Is it necessary that a demon with ten heads (Dashamukha) should have actually lived as stated in the Ramayana? It is the representation of some truth which deserves to be studied, apart from the question whether Dashamukha was a real or fictitious character. You can now depict Krishna in a still more attractive manner, and the description depends upon the sublimity of your ideal, but there stands the grand philosophy contained in the Puranas.”

“The Bhâgavata says that Incarnations are infinite, leaving ample scope for as many as you like to come. Therefore if any one or more of these persons in India's religious history, any one or more of these Incarnations, and any one or more of our prophets proved not to have been historical, it does not injure our religion at all; even then it remains firm as ever, because it is based upon principles, and not upon persons. It is in vain we try to gather all the peoples of the world around a single personality. It is difficult to make them gather together even round eternal and universal principles. If it ever becomes possible to bring the largest portion of humanity to one way of thinking in regard to religion, mark you, it must be always through principles and not through persons. Yet as I have said, our religion has ample scope for the authority and influence of persons. There is that most wonderful theory of Ishta which gives you the fullest and the freest choice possible among these great religious personalities. You may take up any one of the prophets or teachers as your guide and the object of your special adoration; you are even allowed to think that he whom you have chosen is the greatest of the prophets, greatest of all the Avatâras; there is no harm in that, but you must keep to a firm background of eternally true principles.”

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